Chain | Cohn | Stiles has resolved a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Nancy Joyce Garrett, who was killed when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office deputy struck and killed her in September 2014 while in his patrol car.
The family settled the lawsuit against the County of Kern for $2.5 million. The resolution of this case represents the culmination of nearly a decade of work representing not only the family of Nancy Garrett, but the families of Daniel Hiler, Larry Maharrey and others who have been killed in crashes involving Kern County Sheriff’s Office personnel
“This case resulted in five years of protracted litigation in federal court,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark told The Bakersfield Californian. “We are pleased with the outcome especially in light of the fact that the civil rights components of the case were fought at every turn … This case is an example of how the wheels of justice do in fact grind slowly. We appreciate that we had patient clients who believed in the civil rights aspects of the case to see if through to the end.”
For full media coverage of the case, see the listing below.
The crash occurred on Sept. 28, 2014, at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale. The California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) report found that Deputy Nicholas Clerico was at fault when he ran a red light at 85 mph and crashed into Garrett’s vehicle, on her driver’s side. She died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries.
“A reasonable person would have known that entering an intersection against a red traffic signal, at 85 mph, and without giving adequate warning to approaching traffic would create a danger to human life,” the CHP report stated.
The CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy, and in 2017, he pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to 240 hours of community service. He was no longer with the KCSO by the time he accepted the plea agreement.
Nancy was a friendly neighbor, a caregiver for our community, an active blogger, and the pillar of her family. She was a drug and alcohol counselor for the Kern County Mental Health Department, and also volunteered her time as a substance abuse counselor for STEPS, a local nonprofit that provides DUI awareness services. At the time of the crash, she was returning home from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends.
The lawsuit, filed in 2015 on behalf of Garrett’s adult children, Mark McGowan and Deborah Blanco, asked for monetary damages as well as changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies were trained.
In the lawsuit, Garrett’s family through Chain | Cohn | Stiles asked for changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies are trained properly throughout Bakersfield and other communities across Kern County. The county’s policies “were not adequate to train its deputies to handle the usual and recurring situations with which they must deal, including … driving at excessive speeds, pre-clearing intersections and responding Code 3. (Kern County) was deliberately indifferent to the obvious consequences of its failure to train its deputies adequately.”
In fact, Garrett’s death came in the midst of other tragic crashes involving a KCSO. In a four-year span, Kern County sheriff’s personnel crashed into and killed four innocent bystanders in Oildale, including Garrett.
- Larry Maharrey was killed in July 2015 when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive in Oildale directly into Maharrey’s motorcycle. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash. The family, represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, and County of Kern settled the lawsuit for $3.8 million.
- Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were killed in December 2011, when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case settled in March for $8.8 million.
BRINGING ABOUT CHANGE
The case was delayed due, in part, to the Central Valley’s federal district court instituting a “judicial emergency” order due to a shortage of judges. Federal Judge Dale A. Drozd of the U.S. Eastern District Court of California, the federal judicial district that includes Bakersfield and the southern Central Valley area, stated that the judicial emergency order “will seriously hinder the administration of justice” in the district.
In the end, Chain | Cohn | Stiles was able to resolve the case for the family, and helped bring about change.
“Over all else, the family of Nancy Garrett from the outset sought change in the driving practices within the Kern County Sheriff’s Office,” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian.
The family believes their lawsuit ultimately had a positive impact in the community, evidenced by the fact that in the five years of litigation they aren’t aware of any deadly traffic collisions involving sheriff’s deputies responding to calls, Clark said.
McGowan and Blanco told The Bakersfield Californian they continue to stand behind law officers and deputies as they work together with the community to maximize vehicle safety.
“Despite this litigation,” they said in the statement, “we support law enforcement and hope it prevents future crashes and tragedies on the part of our officers and our community members.”
Following the closure of the case, Mark McGowan posted a video regarding his experience with the case, and with Chain | Cohn | Stiles. You can view that video by clicking here.
CRASH MEDIA COVERAGE
- Woman, 72, dies in collision with Kern Sheriff’s patrol car (The Bakersfield Californian)
- CHP: Investigation into deputy-involved crash that killed woman could take months (The Bakersfield Californian)
- One woman dead after KCSO deputy and vehicle crash at China Grade Loop, North Chester Ave. (KERO Channel 23, ABC)
- Crash with patrol vehicle kills 72-year-old woman (KBFX/KBAK, Channels 29/58, BakersfieldNow)
CLAIM MEDIA COVERAGE
- Family of woman killed by deputy’s car teams with law firm that settled similar KCSO case (KERO Channel 23, ABC)
- The family of the woman killed in a car crash with a Kern sheriff deputy has filed a law suit (KGET Channel 17, NBC)
- Family of woman killed in crash involving deputy retains law firm (The Bakersfield Californian)
- ‘First Look’: First News for Oct. 2 (First Look with Scott Cox)
- ‘First Look’: Woman killed in crash involving deputy was ‘glue that kept the family together’ (The Bakersfield Californian)
- Bakersfield Observed: A blog for and about Bakersfield … life, media, politics and people
PRESS CONFERENCE MEDIA COVERAGE
- REPORT: KCSO deputy travelling at high speed before deadly crash (KERO 23, ABC)
- Report: Deputy driving 85 MPH, entered intersection against red light in deadly crash (KGET 17, NBC)
- CHP recommends manslaughter charge against deputy in fatal crash (The Bakersfield Californian)
- CHP: Kern County deputy had red light in deadly crash (KBAK 29 CBS, KBFX 58 Fox, BakersfieldNow.com)
- CHP: Deputy entered intersection against red light, was going 85 mph (KUZZ News)
LAWSUIT MEDIA COVERAGE
- FIRST LOOK: Local attorney to represent victim’s children in wrongful death suit, filed against county (The Bakersfield Californian)
- Crash victim’s family sues Kern County Sheriff’s Office deputy (KERO 23, ABC)
- Lawsuit filed by family of woman killed when speeding deputy ran red light (The Bakersfield Californian)
- Family of woman killed in Oildale seeking damages from KCSO (KUZZ News)
- Deputies’ dispute may boost lawsuit (The Bakersfield Californian)
‘JUDICIAL EMERGENCY’ MEDIA COVERAGE
- Federal judge shortage ‘will seriously hinder the administration of justice’ in Kern (The Bakersfield Californian – Feb. 20, 2020) (online version click here)
- Kern cases impacted due to shortage of federal judges in Central Valley (KGET-17, NBC – Feb. 20, 2020) (online version click here)
- Federal judge shortage severely harming justice in Kern County (KBAK-29, CBS – Feb. 20, 2020) (online version click here)
SETTLEMENT MEDIA COVERAGE
- Son of fatal crash victim involving deputy patrol car shares case experience with Chain Cohn Stiles (YouTube – June 2020)
- County settles case of Oildale grandmother killed in crash with speeding deputy (The Bakersfield Californian – June 26, 2020) (online version)
- $2.5 million settlement reached in case where Oildale woman died in crash involving Kern deputy (KGET-17, NBC – June 27, 2020)